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Archive for the ‘corporate naming’ Category

Why the Executive Suite Must Be Involved in Brand Name Development

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Research, corporate naming, Naming on January 11, 2017 at 11:18 am

by Lexicon Branding Founder David Placek

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The role of the CEO — to drive growth, create new markets, and lead the process of meeting consumer demand — is inextricably linked to the development of effective, dramatic, and unique brands and the brand names that help to establish them. The difference between narrowly defined words or phrases like ProChip and ReadyMop and brand names like Pentium and Swiffer is dramatic. Pentium and Swiffer both represent platforms to create new markets, new products, and highly valuable intellectual property. While ProChip and ReadyMop merely describe products, Pentium and Swiffer define them.

In general, companies tend to under-value the power of a brand name. Although they look at names such as PowerBook, Pentium, and Swiffer and say “Wow,” they don’t necessarily understand or appreciate the investment of time, strategic thinking, and creativity necessary to create a name like Pentium.

Our work with Andy Grove at Intel, Dirk Yaeger at P&G, and John MacFarlane at Sonos demonstrates that when the CEO is involved, and they respect the power of good brand names, good things happen. Yet, every year hundreds of brand name projects are delegated to assistant brand managers and junior product managers, many of whom have no experience in leading a creative process or have the needed vantage point to understand the true potential of the product they are naming. It’s why we have so many boring, descriptive, and unoriginal brand names in the marketplace.

Several years ago, a company with a very generic name, “Internet Diamonds,” engaged Lexicon to create a new and distinctive brand name. The result of our work was Blue Nile. Consider the potential expansiveness of this simple solution: color, vibrancy, history, richness. The name fires up the imagination of consumers from around the world who are interested in buying jewelry and other gifts from the internet. Today, Blue Nile is the world’s leading online diamond jeweler.

Where would Intel be today if Andy Grove, then the President and CEO of Intel who led the naming exercise for the fifth-generation processor, had chosen the name ProChip? Would the brand ProChip be as well-recognized as Pentium? Would consumers be as brand loyal to a ProChip as they are to Pentium? In short, Pentium gave Intel a very distinctive marketing asset. Research conducted both in the United States and Europe revealed that the word Pentium sparked the imagination of consumers. When naming is driven by leadership, the results are exponentially higher because the CEO has the necessary oversight to see how and where to direct the product, service, or company.

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How Lucid Motors Got Its Name

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on November 8, 2016 at 8:30 am

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With over 25,000 trademarked brand names in the automotive category in the U.S. alone, developing a name for a new car is a big challenge. “In this case, the client made it easy,” said David Placek, the President of Lexicon Branding, who worked with Silicon Valley-based Atieva to create a new name for the company that is building an intelligent, electric luxury vehicle.

According to David, Lexicon started the program with a presentation from then-Atieva that was truly inspiring. Staking a new claim for America in the luxury vehicle category, the client team wanted to recapture the spirit of innovative engineering in the heart of California. Among these soaring goals for the company and the vehicle, the team set a very unique objective for the name: “We don’t want it to sound like a car.” That request, combined with the fact that the vehicle is far beyond the ordinary, opened up creative possibilities for Lexicon way beyond more traditional automotive projects.

With a mission to “amaze customers through outstanding performance, beauty, space, and intelligence,” Lexicon initiated the creative process. Lexicon’s linguists in China, Germany, France, Mexico, Spain, Canada, and Japan began to gather intelligence on the culture of electric vehicles and existing brands of cars, motorcycles, scooters, and e-bikes in each market. Next, three small creative teams were briefed and deployed against a range of creative goals and targets.

During a review of dozens of potential solutions, one name received the most attention for its meaning, sounds, and surprising grammatical structure. Lucid, a real English word — an adjective, which is peculiar for a car name — that conveys the notion of intelligence and awareness from its meaning as well as smoothness and simplicity from its sounds. “The name does everything we wanted,” said to David Placek, “It certainly does not sound like a car, but gives you a sense of innovation and intelligence which is what Atieva is all about.” For Placek, whose company coined Subaru’s Outback and Forester, Mercedes Metris, Toyota’s Venza and Scion brands, and GM’s OnStar, the name is certainly a standout. “There was certainly an element of risk,” said Placek, who was quick to point out that without a strong client team with a vision and willingness to take the risk that being truly new requires, Lucid Motors would not exist.

Eric Jackson and Nika Wynnyk

For more on Lexicon’s work and process >> www.lexiconbranding.com/our-work

The ABCs of Media

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming on June 10, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Freeform_FrontPage_HiResIntent on upending the notion that their offerings were strictly family-friendly fare, ABC approached Lexicon to establish a new identity for their network – one that better reflected its fluid audience. The jump from such a descriptive name to a much more imaginative moniker – Freeform – certainly opened the door for the brand to stand for so much more. But it also represents a larger shift in the branding of new media; we are now in an era of entertainment where disruptive freshmen like Netflix and Amazon, which have a keen sense of brand, are seriously repositioning the incumbents. But let’s take a step back.

Readers of a certain age will recall a time when there were only four television networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. These initialisms – or acronyms – stood for descriptive names, American Broadcast Corporation, Columbia Broadcast System, National Broadcast Corporation, and Public Broadcast Service, respectively. These three-letter names were a comfortable choice for these networks: they reflected the established practice of call letters for radio and television stations. They were also developed at a time when such limited choice on the airwaves did not drive the need for differentiation.

Then, as more content and offerings started to emerge, a little personality started to emerge in the space, as well. In fact, it was in this world of acronym entertainment that Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network came to life, with one of its properties being CBN Satellite Service – the channel that would one day become Freeform. During this epoch, other channels in the developing cable world started to present distinct personalities, too: TMC (The Movie Channel), HBO (Home Box Office), and Showtime.

All the previous initialisms to date – ABC, CBS, etc. – had corporate-sounding names as the basis of their abbreviations. But CBN, TMC, and HBO were different: the names of the networks were descriptive of the content itself. This then became the standard in the emerging world of cable networks, and necessarily so; in a world of four channels, it is easier for one of those channels to distinguish itself via its content alone. In a world of tens or hundreds of channels, more communicative names become a necessity to distinguish a network for both viewers and advertisers. Previously, the names only had to identify the source, but in the crowded landscape, they needed to capture the experience, as well – an experience that felt fresh and different.

But HBO and CBN were still familiar initialisms; Showtime wasn’t. Showtime was a suggestive name, evoking the excitement of going to the movies. And it wasn’t reduced to three initials. Its success would help contribute to the dominant approach to naming new (and rebranded) networks. Some of these new network brands would incorporate initialisms (MTV, VH-1, A&E, and HGTV, for example) but many wouldn’t (the History Channel, Bravo, the Discovery Channel, and the Disney Channel). CBN was no different, rebranding itself first as The CBN Family Channel, then later simply The Family Channel. Subsequent acquisitions brought us Fox Family Channel and then ABC Family.

Thus, this new distribution platform (cable television) that allowed a great proliferation of networks changed the naming conventions and the way media outlets thought about establishing a distinctive brand. It then comes as no surprise that this would happen again with the advent of video streaming and ubiquitous access to content via web and mobile. Soon new network brands would begin to eschew descriptive and suggestive names for more arbitrary or coined names.

The break began just before the 21st century with the launch of the TiVo digital video recorder. This new technology offering was not a television network, but it was the first shot fired in the television revolution that continues to this day. The disruptive technology was paired with a disruptive name, one that heralds the current craze for short, fun names. Networks began expanding into arbitrary or coined names, like Oxygen and Palladia. Soon the floodgates were opened and now we watch content on YouTube, Amazon, Roku, Hulu, and Freeform. Far from identifying the source or describing the content, these names evoke a brand experience.

As brands continue to compete for consumer share of mind, whether in entertainment, consumer electronics, or even food and beverage, the need for a powerful brand has become increasingly important. We are no longer in a four-brand marketplace, and the stakes are higher. Newer, more distinctive brands are needed to compete in a marketplace that includes digital streaming, the cable set-top box, and every app on your phone. ABC Family saw this need for newness and this need set the table for creating a bigger, more meaningful brand experience. Stay tuned.

-Alan Clark, Director of Trademark

eBay Enterprise Becomes Radial with Lexicon’s Help

In Business, corporate naming, High Technology on April 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm

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While the impetus behind a corporate rebrand may vary – a merger, an acquisition, a board-ordered mandate – the opportunity is singular: create a new, differentiated, and meaningful identity in the marketplace that signals a confident path forward. When we helped ING Direct rebrand to Tangerine, the goal was to communicate an innovative and fresh approach to banking. And when Brown Shoe Co. wanted to signal to consumers that they were committed to being a fashion brand of the future, we helped them arrive at Caleres, an elegant and expansive concept relative to the old moniker.

So when eBay Enterprise approached us, we knew we had to develop a name that not only supported their differentiated proposition, but would also help them stand out in a cluttered marketplace with a novel idea in the category.

To create such a new mindset in the back-end commerce solutions space, we first did an industry audit to see what language competitors were using. We found that most players in the arena were one-dimensional (Commerce Hub and LogicBroker) or synthetic and unapproachable (Hybris and Micros). This led our creative teams down paths of freshness, approachability, vibrancy, and vivid imagery, among others.

Of the hundreds of names generated – all of which went through our in-house legal team’s review and our global linguistic network’s review – Radial rose to the top as the strongest candidate.

Its assets are numerous. It’s a real word in a sector that trades in compound and coined solutions, giving it salience. It is an expansive name that lets the brand stand for something larger than just a commerce hub, and at the same time, there are relevant and meaningful associations to the larger brand mission. The word radial is often used in mathematical, scientific, and engineering contexts, which supports precision, intelligence, efficacy, and strength. And the name also cues up the stunning natural phenomenon radial symmetry, the inherent balance of the multi-dimensional parts of one organism, as seen in sunflowers.

With a name like Radial – and a compelling and intelligently built business – the road ahead seems to be pretty bright.

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Amazon vs. Netflix: How Names Can Affect Brand Evolution

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Naming on February 8, 2016 at 4:44 pm

It’s old news that Americans are cutting the cord. How we consume media – all forms – is evolving at an increasing clip. Those with innovative business models can keep up (or join in), while those stuck in their old ways are doomed to fail. At first blush, a brand name may seem secondary to business strategy when it comes to staying ahead of the game, but it often plays a hefty role.

This is more obvious in some cases than others: while P&G’s Swiffer has evolved into an entire line of easy-to-use cleaning supplies, its one-time competitor ReadyMop has a brand name that prevents it from being anything other than a mop that’s ready.

Back to media: there are two brands, both hailing from the dot-com ’90s, that have thrived in the new access economy: Netflix and Amazon.

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Whereas Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are little more than memories, Netflix has managed to transform itself from a strictly snail-mail DVD renter into a global streaming powerhouse that makes its own critically acclaimed programs. Some even predict that global media behemoths like Disney, Twenty-First Century Fox, and Time Warner might have cause for concern.

Parsing the name Netflix, the service is clearly tied to (1) the internet and (2) movies, which fit the initial model well. A natural expansion is streaming all sorts of visual media. Of course, Netflix as a name has come to stand for the larger brand, which may continue to push far beyond these two virtual thresholds. And it’s not quite that the name gets in the way of possible expansions, but it certainly doesn’t pave the way for them either.

Consider, by contrast, the ways Amazon has evolved. Once an online book retailer, it’s jumped into streaming media, original content, and even ventures into drone technology and a voice-controlled platform to rival Apple’s Siri. Jeff Bezos has remarked in the past on the importance of the name: “There’s nothing about our model that can’t be copied over time. But you know, McDonald’s got copied. And it still built a huge, multibillion-dollar company. A lot of it comes down to the brand name.” No coincidence that the name Amazon so easily accommodated the shift from books to everything.

Beyond this, the name plays on an incredible conceptual metaphor, rich with imagery and meaning. All the vastness, biodiversity, and life-supporting qualities of the Amazon rainforest are mapped onto how we make sense of the company: the breadth of its ventures, our delight in the products it sells, potentially even its critical function in the broader context of the internet.

The name is not the be-all-end-all of a brand’s trajectory, but it can be a speed bump or an accelerator to success in a shifting landscape.

How to Survive A Panda “Attack”

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming, Naming Research on August 14, 2014 at 10:42 am

Create a distinctive and memorable strategic marketing tool…
your brand name

Pandas, penguins and hummingbirds typically evoke warm, feel – good thoughts. That is unless your company misses out on valuable web traffic after changes to search engine algorithms impact where your company ranks on search engine results pages – or if it shows up at all.

When released by search engines, these types of algorithmic changes while called cute animals like pandas, penguins and hummingbirds, can cause your brand to get lost amongst vague descriptions unless consumers are searching for it by name. According to Glenn Gabe’s recent post on Search Engine Watch, “…I unfortunately saw many companies get pummelled…losing more than 60% of Google organic traffic overnight.” One of the best defenses against pesky “pandas” – invest in creating a strategic, marketing tool – a distinctive and memorable brand – that consumers easily recall when researching or buying your product.

It’s clear to us at Lexicon Branding why brand names matter and how a thoughtful approach to this key asset can help companies rise to the top of search engine results pages on the “wild” worldwide web:

• The most successful marketers use both scientific research and creativity to create distinctive and memorable brand names. It is more than simple word play to create a brand that sticks in the mind. Memorable brands endure and resonate by combining a minimum of three facets – semantics or meaning, sound and letter structure.

• Brands need to stand out and work across the globe in multiple languages and various multi-media formats. This is becoming harder to do given trademark registrations continue to increase. For example, global class 9 trademark applications more than doubled from approximately 259,000 in 1984 to exceeding 530,000 by 2013. Lexicon predicts globally by 2017 there will be 55 million trademark applications across the existing classes.

• A distinctive brand name is perennial, not perishable or easily forgotten. Thus, algorithms can change and the organic traffic generated by your brand survives because it was built to last.

How can your name successfully navigate the 2 million web searches conducted every minute?

The right brand name is a fundamental element of strategic marketing that creates value by being distinctive and memorable as well as elevating the conversation. It evokes feelings typically followed by action. The best guard against changes you can’t control is to invest in your brand so that consumers will ask for it by name – whether they’re shopping in a traditional bricks-and-mortar store or typing it into the search bar.

— David Placek, President, Lexicon Branding

Like It or Not: The Wrong Way to do Naming Research

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Research, corporate naming, Naming, Naming Research, Trademark Research, Trademarks on March 4, 2014 at 3:05 am

So you’ve been asked to evaluate potential brand names

You’re a marketing manager or a research manager who’s been asked to evaluate a set of potential names for a new product.

The innovations team has tinkered with design for months, years maybe, and the product will be ready for production soon. Meanwhile, stakeholders have been brainstorming names for the new product. Even the CEO has been promoting his or her kid’s name as a contender. Everyone has a horse in the race.

At Lexicon, we focus on creative development – inventing strategic brand names. We also offer a proven approach to name evaluation, which identifies candidate names that have the most positive impact potential for a new brand.

Often clients employ our research approach. But just as often, clients use other parties to evaluate candidate names. We’ve been witness to some of these traditional approaches, approaches that may leave you with a comfortable-yet-uninspiring name – a ‘ReadyMop’ instead of a ‘Swiffer.’

But let’s explore this well-worn path a bit.

How not to do naming research

Whether you’re conducting qualitative research (focus groups) or quantitative research (an online survey), traditional tactics call for asking the target customer whether or not they ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a name and how well a name ‘fits’ to a concept.

By asking questions like these, you are essentially paying $100 to a stranger to make brand strategy judgments that you, as the professional, should be making. In addition, you’re asking a consumer to be logical in his or her decision-making, something they might do when purchasing a car or home, but not when they’re considering dish soap.

Another example of these ‘marketer for a day’ questions is: “How easy is the name to say?” Rather than having participants pronounce the name and listening, yourself, for problematic pronunciations, you’ve asked a set of people of varying degrees of linguistic understanding to make that call for you.

Finally, the worst: “How willing would you be to purchase a new [product] called [insert name]?” Clients often insist on including this question. When we oblige, the results have been pretty consistent. The more descriptive names, the names whose semantics directly relate to the concept itself (like ReadyMop), tend to win. If we followed this schematic, Intel’s Pentium could have been dubbed ProChip.

Beyond question types, there’s methodology to consider.

A client recently showed us a survey, which was essentially a series of multiple-choice questions listing all name candidates as answer options. This is problematic because by question #3 or #4 a given participant has likely established a favorite and will often speed through the survey, simply looking for their favorite name regardless of the question at hand.

Another survey we were shown attempted to correct for multiple-choice bias through a monadic approach (seeing one name throughout the survey and rating it on scales). Monadic is the right idea, but this survey ended with a final multiple-choice, likeability question, which included the full set of names. A more careful design would have considered the effect priming may have, not to mention the less-than-inspiring, comfortable names which typically result from such a question, anyhow.

Lexicon’s approach to naming research

Lexicon has spent over 20 years refining its methodological approach. Our efforts to date have given us the capability to test any number of names in a balanced manner.

In terms of question types, we leave the marketing judgments to our own branding experts. Our research respondents are tasked with conveying feelings.

And that’s just it. Put your respondents, whether in qualitative or quantitative exercises, into situations in which they are directly interacting with a name at a visceral level. Having them pronounce the name aloud is a simple example, albeit just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can ask respondents to do.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.54.55 AMLexicon employs a number of techniques to spark emotionally-based responses from participants. A classic example comes from a research program we led for a Coca-Cola bottled water many years ago. Seeking to understand which candidate name best evoked the qualities of relaxation, being pampered, and taking care of oneself, Lexicon descended upon the Sausalito spa scene, interviewing women who had just been massaged and manicured. It was a simple question: “Which of these names best expresses the way you feel right now?”

The answer has become one of our billion-dollar brands: Dasani.

The Lexicon approach to naming research accomplishes three things:

  1. Identifies the names with the most potential to get attention, generate interest and say something new
  2. Confidently eliminates the names with the least potential
  3. Identifies the relative strengths and weaknesses of each name

Finally, we make it our goal to understand the why as best as we can. In quantitative, we include a number of open-ended questions to this end. This helps us and our clients understand the deeper meanings behind the strengths and weaknesses of a given name.

— David Placek, President

Say What?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks, Uncategorized on June 13, 2013 at 3:00 am

Just how important is a brand name’s pronunciation, anyway?

When names for a new product are being weighed, there’s usually nervousness around pronunciation. Still, think of the different ways people pronounce Porsche, Hermès, Zagat.

And don’t even get us started with l’Occitane.

Some brands succeed despite tricky phonetics–so tricky that pronunciations can still vary long after the brands have become established. Zagat’s intended pronunciation is “ZAG-it,” yet many of us go for the more exotic sounding “za-GAT.”

In Europe, thanks to its profusion of languages and cultures, variability looms even larger. When Lexicon was developing the name Azure for Microsoft’s cloud platform, a company officer in Germany worried that Azure could be pronounced a dozen different ways by non-native speakers. And that client probably wasn’t even aware that native Britishers say it at least four ways: “AZH-er,” “AZH-yoor,” “AY-zher,” and “AY-zhyoor,” Yet the brand has been extremely successful, even in Europe.

So how important is pronunciation?

More than anything else, brand names are about first impressions, so it makes sense to avoid any possibility of confusion when launching a new brand. But reasonable as that rule is, sometimes it’s better to violate it.

At the outset, Acura, Honda’s premium brand in the U.S., was accented like bravura and Futura by some people. Yet, thanks to early advertising that spread virally, and also thanks to the (intentional) resemblance to accurate, an unambiguous pronunciation was quickly established, and the brand, which now has been around for three decades, is still going strong.

The correct lesson to draw from Porsche, Hermès, and l’Occitane is that a brand already well-established in its homeland will transport more easily despite pronunciation issues. In fact, the name’s oddness may help its identity. Add Zagat to that list, should you consider New York City a homeland.

There is one type of pronunciation problem that seems to trip the marketer up more badly than the marketee: sounds and sound combinations that are normal in one language but distinctly odd in another.

Japanese doesn’t have the sound [l] (or “el”) and avoids most consonant sequences. This ought to create problems for a brand like McDonald’s, yet thanks to well-established conventions for dealing with foreign words, the name is actually straightforward for Japanese speakers: makudonarudo.

English speakers are no different: hors d’oeuvres is supremely easy for us to (mis)pronounce, though it remains a devil to spell.

Bottom line: avoiding pronunciation issues is a good idea, but some odd pronunciations or spellings are not as problematic as they may seem. In fact, sometimes a difficult name delivers a beneficial, attention-getting jolt.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

Web of Intrigue: Online Shopping Meets Storytelling

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Naming, Trademarks on April 22, 2013 at 3:00 am

When companies name an online enterprise, the right name can transcend the notion of a mere store and describe an entire shopping experience. This is the kind of thinking that wins over consumers while giving a competitive advantage in the overall landscape of business.

Amazon is a sterling example of this. Although books were the first products associated with Amazon, the name has come to describe a full platform based around shopping and variety.

online-shopping-keyboardWhen you visit Amazon’s homepage, you see a vast array of options and opportunities, from media to housewares to fashion and beyond. If the company had gone merely with a descriptive name like Allbooks or Bookmart, it would never have had the capacity to encompass all of these different but inviting departments. (Apple’s iTunes is an obvious counter-example, but the Apple halo and focused i-initiating architecture more than make up for the narrow scope of tunes.)

Indeed, the easily identifiable, compelling name of an immense river proved more effective than any regular department store moniker. Over the years, “Amazon” has become something else entirely: a community, a platform, a social movement, a whole world of feeling.

We see an illustrative example even if we look at two bricks-and-mortar titans – Wal-Mart and Target. If you ask a typical consumer which name is more fashionable, Target will likely be the clear winner. As a real word with many effective associations – hitting a mark accurately, getting what you want, a “bull’s eye” – Target is a name that captures an emotion and efficiency, not merely a “mart” where many different things are sold.

Now compare the online sites of both of these brands, the air of innovation that Target has is immediately apparent. The name clearly sets the company’s tone, sets its identity in the marketplace.

A key example of effective online naming in Lexicon’s history involves the retailer originally known as Internet Diamonds. As the name clearly implies, the company once specialized in efficient and reliable ways for customers to buy diamonds online; in most cases, the typical customer was a man shopping for an engagement ring. But as time passed, obvious questions arose:

What if a customer wanted to buy something other than a diamond?

What if a woman were shopping for herself and wanted a little bit of intrigue and allure incorporated into the process?

How could the experience put a stake in the ground that would remain compelling as competition swelled?

Naturally, the company needed a new name. So Lexicon worked with the client to create a new identity that opened up an entirely different world of possibility.

Blue Nile.

Like Amazon, Blue Nile conjures up a feeling – an air of potential, beauty, vastness, and enticement. Blue Nile is now a multibillion-dollar business. A similar example is Piperlime, which Lexicon named in partnership with Gap, Inc. Again, in adopting this name, Gap, Inc., chose to evoke a certain emotion in the customer, not simply define a narrow window of opportunity. Due to its bright sounds, the zesty images of both piper and lime, and the enticing lime logo paired with the name, the word implies fun, variety, and satisfaction, and Piperlime now rivals Bluefly as one of the most recognized shopping sites in the world. (It even figured prominently in the hit reality competition series Project Runway, where host/supermodel Heidi Klum clearly took pleasure in pronouncing it.)

What’s more, if Gap ever wants to branch out further and build upon Piperlime’s potential as a full-on social media hub or community, the name has the capacity for that type of expansion.

Names like Amazon, Blue Nile, and Piperlime allow for storytelling with an edge, a customer base with an extra bit of panache, and that is why creating a name that has a broader appeal than simply selling one type of thing or describing one kind of store is so important. Stores come and go, but a store’s style — the sentiment that it instills in a customer — endures.

— Lexicon Branding

The Brief In Brief

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming on April 15, 2013 at 3:00 am

Developing An Effective Creative Brief

Every year for the past thirty years Lexicon has received dozens of creative briefs usually prepared by a client, sometimes by the advertising agency. Most recently, “brand strategists” either inside or outside the client have been preparing them. No matter the source, they are usually not very good. What is most striking is that they all sound and look alike even across distinctly different categories. You have to wonder “Why?”

This piece is not a “how to” article. It has just a few observations that may help to improve the process.

Most clients have a standardized approach to writing the brief. These briefs have sections. “Brand vision”, “tone”, and “brand voice” are phrases we often see. Because they are so formulaic we often find these documents way too logical and static.

True, some look and sound impressive. The various sections are often filled with popular but generally meaningless expressions like “empowering”, “enabling” and most recently, “curating”. If you are on the creative side of this, it’s not very helpful. In fact, it is usually constraining. A brief should be a launch pad for discussion and thinking and investigation, and not a prescription.

So why are so many briefs prescriptive in nature?

It stems from an assumption that the creative process and creative people must be managed. You can’t really manage a creative process. You can lead it, encourage it, push it, even cajole it. Design your briefs with those ideas in mind and you’ll be ahead of the game. Expecting a brief to manage a process is both wishful and naïve.

Since it’s called a “creative brief”, why not involve creative people to help write it? Start with a blank sheet of paper and just start talking. Forget about filling out a form. Write it as a story. Together. Keep it open. Let it evolve.

Not only will the end product be better – much better – but an essential ingredient of innovation and breakthrough creativity will be created. That ingredient is trust. Trust engaging your creative resources rather than taking sole responsibility for creating the brief next time.

Chances are you’ll be delighted – and rewarded – with the results.

– J. David Placek, President & Founder